Two years into Covid pandemic, slow case detection among major challenges for Health Ministry

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By Orville Williams

[email protected]

Slow case detection and non-compliance with public health measures are some of the issues still facing Antigua and Barbuda’s Health Ministry, approximately two years into the Covid-19 pandemic.

The country’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Rhonda Sealey-Thomas, made that revelation during a media briefing yesterday, ahead of an expected Cabinet decision this week on the relaxation of some of those measures, including mandatory mask-wearing.

“We’ve had issues with healthcare providers providing information to us in a timely manner and, going forward, as we [potentially] lift restrictions and step up surveillance, I would really want to have the ministry’s Epidemiology Unit have the ability to be nimble, to be able to detect cases quickly and respond,” she said.

According to the CMO, the ministry has already taken steps to boost its own efficiency and much of those efforts are dependent on reciprocity from the healthcare providers.

“Some of the things that we’ve done [are] we’ve increased the training and the capacity of our contact tracers and the number of contact tracers, so we’re able to do contact tracing on a faster, higher level.

“But we’re only able to do that if we get the cases quickly. We’ve increased our testing capacity at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre laboratory, so when results come back positive, we need to be alerted quickly so that we can respond,” she explained.

In addition to the slow detection of cases, the CMO noted the lack of adherence by residents to the public health protocols – such as mask-wearing and handwashing – disclosing that she has personally witnessed these breaches.

She advised that abandoning the rules is not an advisable move, given the sustained threat of infection to many. And, amid continued talks about the relaxation of some protocols, she issued an appeal for everyone to respect any measures that are still in effect.

“Whatever restrictions are lifted, we want to encourage persons [to adhere] to those that remain in place. They’re there to protect [you] and particularly those who are most vulnerable,” she said.

The CMO also encouraged persons to continue getting vaccinated, calling that another of the ministry’s challenges and revealing that daily vaccination numbers have decreased to as low as 10 persons.

As an incentive, she declared, the relaxation of even more restrictions could be considered, “once we get to that 70 percent”.

“Let Antigua and Barbuda be that first country in the Eastern Caribbean to reach that 70 percent [vaccination] mark,” she urged.

The Cabinet is set to make a decision on the mandatory mask-wearing policy today, and that decision could see the stance changed to ‘optional’, with certain conditions.

The CMO said yesterday that she is still conducting research and considering the various implications before she gives her advice to the Cabinet toward making its decision.

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